Still pining away for one more direct-to-VHS mid-eighties soft-core horror-comedies?
Sam (Hayley Griffith) is a doe-eyed innocent trying to survive her first day in the ultra-competitive pizza delivery business. Desperate to make tips and with the gas gauge on her Vespa dangerously low, she takes an out-of-area delivery to a ritzy gated home full of snooty eclectics. After getting predictably stiffed, Sam picks the wrong time to assert herself, stumbling into what looks like some kind of motivational meeting led by Danica (Rebecca Romijn) before being correctly identified as a virgin — the missing ingredient their devil cult needs to call forth a promised dark lord of Hell.
There’s a fine balance when it comes to the horror-comedy genre. If it goes all-in for the joke, it loses suspension of disbelief. Swing the needle too far in the other direction and even the blackest comedies fall flat. The trick is to allow for natural absurdity and feature characters who can point out exactly what the audience is thinking. An impressive example of this is the recent Ghost Light movie, about a traveling theater troupe who invokes that which they knew not to. It also doesn’t hurt to have a big-name draw filling a minor role or two, but does a satirical riff on upper-class satanism have the right balance of necessary ingredients to deliver what was promised?
At a glance, Satanic Panic presents like the poor cousin of Ready or Not with the inclusion of a few nipples here and there. In truth, the film follows the beats of the 1985 film Once Bitten. Model-actress antagonist Lauren Hutton/Rebecca Romijn? Check. Relative unknown Jim Carrey/Hayley Griffith as the required virgin? Check. Supernatural elements played up for absurdity? Check. Everything Satanic Panic attempts was already done better decades before, from gender-flipping the sacrificial virgin trope to evil hiding in plain-sight within a ritzy upscale mansion. With too many similarities highlighting poorer cinematic choices in the writing, this 2019 entry feels less like a throwback than an intentional also-ran.
To the film’s credit, Hayley Griffith makes an adorable reluctant sacrifice, easily the best performer among her pizza cohorts. As the story moves toward the not-so-subtle undeserving rich characters chanting “death to the weak, wealth to the strong,” only Ruby Modine (Happy Death Day) stands out with her character Judi. While filled with plenty of gore and fake blood for fans, too much of the film feels like filler or played to stretch a thin running time. By the time we get to a legitimate twist and pull some of the fat out of the fire, the story’s turn feels even more forced to make earlier character arcs meaningless. That’s a shame, too, because there are a number of fun bits sprinkled throughout (pun intended), just not enough to recommend.
A note on context: the rapey bits and feminine power. Again similar to Once Bitten and the need for virgin purity in whatever supernatural/satanic thing is meant to happen, Satanic Panic manages to handle those elements with the horror they deserve, including the terrifying indifference of other women you’d count on to be empathetic. In Once Bitten, Carrey’s character was ridiculed for being a virgin, with his friends practically pushing him into the fangs of the Countess regardless of the consequences. Even the pizza delivery guys tried warn newbie Sam of the possible dangers to her… right up until whenever they weren’t trying to get into her pants themselves. It’s a sign of the times that this is even still a subject, but it’s to director Chelsea Stardust’s credit that she went there.
With films like What We Do In the Shadows getting television makeovers and losing none of their profane imagination or originality, this is a solemn request to step it up instead of settle in, especially with the name Fangoria attached. Of course, if the point was to feel as flat as some of the eighties direct-to-video ridiculousness that passed itself off as genre horror-comedy back in the day, it’s accurate to that at least. A tighter script, a closer edit, and demanding more of your extras other than wide-eyed looks of “not today, Satan” could have gone a long way to give this production more punch.
Satanic Panic is not rated but is chock full of violence, gore, profanity, drug use, frightening and intense scenes, and wanton abuse of the Rule of Sams.
Two skull recommendation out of four
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